Blog: SIDS 2014 conference in Samoa

03 September 2014

Leaders gathered in Samoa from 1-4 September at the United Nations' International Conference on Small Island Developing States, to help build durable partnerships and secure sustainable development for vulnerable coastal nations.

National governments, civil society organisations and business leaders gathered in Samoa, 1-4 September, at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS 2014).

The goal was to build durable partnerships and secure sustainable development for this group of countries, which are often remote, low lying, and acutely vulnerable to climate change and rising seas, as well as economic shocks.

Learn more about the Commonwealth’s role at SIDS 2014:

Thursday 4 September

Resilience building emerged as a key strand throughout the SIDS 2014 conference, writes Janet Strachan, Interim Director of Economic Policy at the Commonwealth, in her closing blog. What will be the long-term impact of the 'Samoa Pathway' and a conference that put dialogue ahead of negotiations?

"SIDS 2014 closed quietly and on time. Well ordered, and no negotiations through the night to push us towards a dawn plenary. As we leave this beautiful island, the question we are asked by all is, "did you have a good conference?" The answer is certainly, yes.

"The preparatory process had been tough, with many SIDS feeling that their needs where not being fully recognised and responded to by this process. Not now, and not in the 20 years since Barbados. But the atmosphere that Samoans themselves created was so constructive and welcoming that it brought a new energy into the mix. It put dialogue rather than negotiations at the centre of the conference.

"The big question is, what impact this dialogue will have in the years to come? There were partnerships formed – 297 had been reported by the close of the meeting – but some are frameworks that still need flesh and bone to give them life. SIDS themselves might have brought more proposals to the table for engagement and support, but notable efforts by SIDS included the GLISPA partnership (global islands partnership) and a sustainable energy initiative called SIDS‑DOCK, as well as the Climate Resilient Islands Partnership which the Commonwealth helped to highlight.

"Coalitions for action emerged that brought all interested parties around the table - those with the technical knowledge and those with country experiences. We saw this in discussions around the development of hydropower in the Pacific, strategies for climate diplomacy for the world's most vulnerable countries, approaches to debt management, and practical ways to build ocean economies for these 'large ocean states'.

"What was less on show was the money and a clear accountability framework for the SAMOA Pathway which was agreed. Having said this, the UN reported that the meeting generated financial commitments of US$1.9 billion across the partnerships that were highlighted. The SAMOA Pathway stands for ‘SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action’ and has little that is new and additional for SIDS, which have a task ahead of them to ensure that this conference delivers lasting benefits. Luckily there are opportunities to achieve this: the UN General Assembly at the end of the month; work on the Post 2015 Development Agenda; and the UN Thirds Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July 2015.

"SIDS 2014 highlighted the big themes in island states' development: oceans, energy and people. Resilience building emerged as the key strand throughout, and the Commonwealth will work closely with its members towards a robust engagement on this issue and the means for action on it."

Representatives from 115 countries attended the summit in Samoa. Some 297 partnerships between governments, businesses and civil society organisations were registered in the run-up and during the conference. The total value of these commitments is valued by the United Nations at over USD$1.9 billion.

“Without a doubt, these partnerships leave a legacy with impact,” commented Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of the Conference. “Many of the initiatives announced here are looking at the unique position of small island developing states as an opportunity to accelerate advancements on renewable energy, disaster preparedness and sustainable food systems, to name just a few key areas.”

“Today marks a beginning, not an end,” added Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, in his closing statement. “Samoa is by no means the final destination for responses to small island developing states’ development challenges. But it is an important launch point to key future stops on our journey to sustainably employ the few resources available to small island developing states to improve and raise the standard of living for our communities.” Read more.

The conference was a milestone in the journey towards a deeper understanding and appreciation of the challenges of small island states, writes Denny Lewis-Bynoe, Economic Adviser for Small States at the Commonwealth Secretariat, in a personal reflection on SIDS 2014:

"It was an opportunity to move beyond the talking to action. It not only provided a forum for showcasing existing partnerships but one for developing new partnerships. Without the preoccupation of negotiating text and agreeing language, delegates had the space to explore solutions, including south-south solutions, and to forge new partnerships. The exchange of ideas, vision and knowledge will undoubtedly have a ripple effect in years to come - that will be the untold story of the success of this conference.

"We came, we shared, we learned, and we will forever be changed by this experience. I congratulate the Government and the people of Samoa for their vision for their focus on partnerships and building on the solid foundations of Barbados and Mauritius strategies a structure that is solid. I congratulate them also for their organisation and hospitality in mobilising every citizen to host us in their beautiful country.

"Well done to Samoa, and, in the local language 'Tofa Soifua'."

'Water and Sanitation, Food Security and Waste Management' was the theme for Thursday's multi-stakeholder partnership dialogue. Ryan Bachoo, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad and Tobago wrote about this subject for and Outreach magazine. Read the article.

Wednesday 3 September

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Deodat Maharaj addresses the SIDS 2014 plenary, attended by Heads of Government, foreign ministers, and representatives of civil society organisations.

"Strong societies and resilient economies need firm foundations. Working for the future of small states within an equitable global system is also crucial. To promote this is a Commonwealth brand strength and expresses our commitment to SIDS," says Mr Maharaj.

"In shaping the new Post-2015 global development agenda, the goals and targets set must recognise the particular and long term vulnerabilities of SIDS, and support them in building for futures that serve their citizens through growth and are robust and sustainable."   

Read the address in full.

A personal perspective from Janet Strachan, Interim Director of Economic Policy at the Commonwealth:

"From the moment we left the airport, you could feel this was a different kind of UN Conference. Every road is festooned with bunting and greetings, as communities across the island extended a warm welcome to us all. But the difference runs deeper than the surface.

"The Government of Samoa has delivered on its vision to make this meeting one that delivers real solutions to small states’ challenges through genuine and durable partnerships. It’s not the ‘talk shop’ that many feared, but a kind of development fair with a whole market place of ideas and partnerships on display.

"There are still pockets of a UN process of formal speeches and people reading long statements on panels that do not leave room for dialogue. But, there are also plenty of examples of quite the opposite. A refreshing wind has blown through this process, and Samoa might help transform international processes in the future by its example."

At 19:00, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Deodat Maharaj addressed a side event organised by UNCTAD and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. He noted that:

  • The annual compound growth rate of per capita income for SIDS between 1970 and the year 2000 was about 0.73% in comparison with that of the world economy, which was almost three times that – at 2.07%.
  • In the last 10 years (from 2002-2012), SIDS had one of the lowest annual compound growth rates of just 1.23%. This compares to 1.5% for the global economy; 4.96% for developing economies; 4.0% for LDCs and 3.23% for Sub-Saharan Africa. All these out-performed SIDS.
  • Commonwealth research has shown that countries most exposed to preference loss are mainly SIDS such as Saint Lucia, Belize, St Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, Dominica, Jamaica, and St Vincent and Grenadines.
  • Since the 1980s, the combined share of SIDS countries in world exports of merchandise goods and commercial services declined by 0.3% (from 0.52% to 0.22%). 
  • A disaster inflicting damage over 2 per cent of GDP can be expected to hit the Caribbean region every two to three years. 
  • The Cook Islands, has a land space of just 240 square kilometres, but an Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ of 1.8 million square kilometres (that’s a ratio of 75,000: 1). For Bahamas, the ratio is 62: 1; for Kiribati it is 4,238:1; Maldives: 3,000:1 – and for Tuvalu, an astounding 28,915: 1. 

At 13:00, a High-Level Side Event on a Comprehensive Approach to Debt Management in SIDS was hosted by the World Bank and UNDESA, with representation from the Commonwealth. Speakers underlined the high levels of public debt built up from weak fiscal balances and slow growth, financial sectors which have not yet developed, as well as challenges related to the impacts of natural disasters.

A video produced by the Commonwealth was premiered at the event. It showcases a Commonwealth debt swap initiative geared towards providing funding for climate change resilience.

Watch the video below:

Many small island developing states are thought to have economic strength because they enjoy middle income status, and are therefore considered well-positioned to achieve their development goals. However, the reality is often the opposite, writes Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Deodat Maharaj in a commentary published on our website as well as select media outlets.

"Many have jurisdiction over extensive areas of ocean space with exclusive rights to sustainably utilise these resources. This rich endowment should ensure food security, support livelihoods and generate income. Yet often, small island developing states are unable to fully tap their resources due to limited investment and capacity, relying instead on third parties. As a result, the financial, and other benefits that should accrue are often limited." Continue reading.

Representing the Commonwealth Youth Programme in Samoa, youth correspondent Steph Carter, 24, from Australia, interviewed Gyan Chandra Acharya, the Under Secretary General for the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS).

Mr Acharya spoke about the outcomes of the pre-conference private sector partnerships forum, which enabled private sector actors to identify and build upon partnerships for sustainable development in SIDS. These partnerships encompass climate change and national economic issues.

"If you look at small islands, engagement with the private sector will be critical, in regards to protection of national capital, sustainable production and consumption patterns, marine biodiversity and marine empowerment as a whole, and access to energy, transportation, and connectivity," he commented.

"We had very good participation at the forum, particularly in the areas that we were pushing. We will continue to follow up with a very strong emphasis on partnerships and networks."

'Oceans, Seas and Biodiversity' and 'Sustainable Energy' were the themes for Wednesday's multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues. Shomira Sanyal, 20, a Commonwealth Correspondent from India wrote about the former for Read her article. 

Samantha Khan, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad and Tobago, and Mehzabin Ahmed, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Bangladesh, wrote about sustainable energy. Read Mehzabin's article. Read Samantha's article.

Tuesday 2 September

At 13:00, the Commonwealth, alongside UN DESA, hosted a Joint High-Level Side Event on Resilience in SIDS. The event, co-chaired by Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary-General, and Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of SIDS 2014 explored a common approach in their organisations' work on vulnerability and resilience building.

During the side event, President James Michel of Seychelles underscored how small island developing states are especially vulnerable to fluctuactions in the global economy, as well as environmental concerns such as climate change. 

“SIDs are the most exposed countries to global processes than any other type of country. We are the first responders to pressures in the international financial system, and the first to feel the pressure of [climate change]. This exposure makes us vulnerable in unique ways and this vulnerability undermines our development," he commented.

“So far our development efforts have treated symptoms, but not causes of economic health, or lack of sustainability in general. For SIDS, we have failed to recognise the core factors that underpin our vulnerability," President Michel added.


President James Michel discusses Seychelles' challenges as a small island developing state



Audio: Minister James Fletcher of Saint Lucia


During the side event, a new Commonwealth publication, entitled Building the Resilience of Small States: A Revised Framework, was officially launched. Buy the book online at the Commonwealth's publication store.


Video: Foreign Minister Arvin Boolell of Mauritius


Later in the evening, Janet Strachan, Interim Director for Economic Policy at the Commonwealth Secretariat, spoke at the side event ‘Commonwealth for the Blue Economy: Sustainable Oceans and Fisheries’, hosted by the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council. Other guest panelists included the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies and the Foreign Minister of Seychelles.

Key issues discussed included ocean governance (and the capacity for small island states to govern ocean territory that is sometimes 4000 times their land mass), and the opportunities within the blue economy. Resources include traditional areas such as fishing and tourism and emerging areas like energy and pharmaceuticals. Ms Strachan noted that the Commonwealth supports the ocean governance of Commonwealth small island developing states in a number of ways:

"We help countries by first securing the resource, assisting countries with delimitation of their maritime boundaries, and looking at a suite of ocean governance issues to see what opportunities exist and whether countries are geared up to exploit them."

Earlier in the morning, the Commonwealth participated in a side event on 'Designing Climate Readiness for Small Island Developing States' hosted by the Republic of Mauritius, in collaboration with the Indian Ocean Commission. Speakers highlighted the value of partnerships and progress being made at the international, regional and national levels.

In an interview for YourCommonwealth, Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma highlights the Commonwealth’s support for building climate resilience in SIDS:

"The carbon footprint of small islands is close to nil, but they are the first ones to be affected by global warming, with many of these threats being of an existential nature. The answer to these vulnerabilities is resilience," Mr Sharma commented. 

"We help Commonwealth small states lodge claims for expansion of economic zones, and once that comes into existence they have a right over the territory and can exercise their right for fishing, tourism, and exploitation of natural resources in a sustainable way." Read in full the interview by Commonwealth Correspondent Steph Carter.

In a separate interview for YourCommonwealth, Dr. Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of UNECA in Addis Ababa, speaks about climate change and the blue economy, and the potential for private sector partnerships and engagement with other SIDS regions. 

"The Commonwealth exposure to Caribbean and the Pacific becomes handy in terms of bringing that experience to Africa. I’m sure it would be of interest for the other regions to learn about SIDS in Africa as well," he comments. Read the interview in full.

Monday 1 September

Main conference begins

More than than 3,000 delegates are in Apia, including Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, and representatives of Commonwealth member governments, civil society and business. 

“By addressing the issues facing SIDS we are developing the tools we need to promote sustainable development across the entire world,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the opening session on Monday. 

 more images from this event can be found on Flickr

At an intergenerational dialogue with youth leaders, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Deodat Maharaj announces that nominations are now open for the Commonwealth Youth Awards 2015. “The Commonwealth Youth Awards showcase the tangible and meaningful impacts being made in development by young people," he says.

“These awards encourage us to take note of their contribution, and to include and support them more. In addition, the passion and commitment exhibited by the young award winners is inspiring to other young people. By amplifying their work, the awards help them become beacons to others," Mr Maharaj said.

In an interview for YourCommonwealth, Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, underlines the importance of addressing youth unemployment in small island developing states:

"For me it starts with education. Making sure that education systems are offering appropriate skills, and vocational training that responds to what the market is demanding. What I see in many countries is that educational systems are churning out lots of degrees, lots of young well-educated people- but with skills for which the market is already saturated or not demanding. We need to make sure education systems are attuned to the realities of the market," Ms Gonzalez​ commented.

"Youth entrepreneurship is a solution, but access to finance is a huge issue. Young people have great ideas, but often have no way to translate these into tangible and economically valuable activities. This access to finance is not just in the form of traditional banks, credits and loans, but looking also at impact investments, crowd funding, and other sources of financing to help young people find a financial mechanism that allows them to put into practice their ideas." Read in full the interview by Commonwealth Correspondent Steph Carter.


Commonwealth Correspondent Steph Carter interviews Arancha Gonzalez and Kamalesh Sharma



Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma and Deputy Secretary-General Deodat Maharaj have a busy day of interviews with leading media outs as well as local community radio.

'Sustainable Economic Development' was the theme for Monday's multi-stakeholder partnership dialogue. Fale Lesa, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Samoa and New Zealand wrote about this subject for Read the  article. 

Sunday 31 August

Opening Ceremony



“It is an immense honour for my country to host the conference,” remarks Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Samoa’s Prime Minister, at the cultural ceremony to mark the beginning of SIDS 2014. The Prime Minister offers his thanks to delegates who have travelled thousands of miles to come to Apia.

“I thank you for honouring Samoa and our Pacific region with your participation in this conference,” he said. “The next four days of meetings and side events will be an opportunity… to deal with the substantive matters on our agenda: the challenges SIDS face that require global attention and action.”


Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, also in attendance, issues a rallying cry: “SIDS are trying to cope with their challenges. The world is hear to show that we support them, for the sake of our common humanity.

“The world’s nations, whether big or small, landlocked or coastal, come together to share the fight against climate change and the scourge of poverty. Together we can pursue a sustainable future and transform our world.”


Saturday 30 August

A pre-conference side event on the Climate-Resilient Islands Partnership takes place at the Headquarters of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, in Apia.

The dialogue showcases the partnership and its work to support climate change planning and finance in small island developing states. 

Director General of SPREP, David Sheppard shares his thoughts on the importance of partnership.




Watch a short video about the partnership:


Thursday 28 August

In an interview with the Commonwealth’s communications team, Samoa’s Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, urges the international community to offer support to small island developing states, some of whom face “termination” owing to threats posed by climate change and rising seas.


Watch the interview here.


Forum on Youth

The Forum on Youth kicks off with youth delegates from small island developing states participating in the plenary and breakout discussions.


Social development concerns come under the spotlight, reports Steph Carter, 23, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Australia, as did the importance of representative youth networks.

"As leaders prepare for the main conference proceedings next week, outcomes of the youth conference will surely remind them of the importance of youth empowerment and youth networks in tackling social development concerns across SIDS."

Read more from Steph's article on


Katherine Ellis, Youth Affairs Director for the Commonwealth, presents on social development in SIDS, focusing on issues that are of greatest concern to young people, such as unemployment.



Nurul-Huda Mohamed Afandi, President of the Commonwealth-Asia Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs, presents on education, entrepreneurship and employment, together with the International Labour Organization.


Youth delegates were on hand to give their perspectives on the importance of SIDS 2014 and the role of youth in the wider SIDS agenda



Wednesday 27 August

The welcome event for the Forum on Youth features keynote presentations by Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of SIDS 2014.

Listen to a clip from the Prime Minister’s welcome address:


Commonwealth Secretariat staff discuss preparations for the SIDS 2014 conference:



Small states' challenges include their small but growing populations and limited resources, and high energy, communication and transportation costs. The relative small size of their economy means that any global event has a disproportionate effect.

Small states are also highly susceptible to natural disasters. One of the biggest threats they face is climate change and sea level rises.

Small states are working hard to address these challenges despite their capacity constraints. With this in mind, the Commonwealth is taking action to boost the resilience of small states.

Watch a video about our approach: